Breathing rhythm influences memory and fear recognition

In the Breatheology Method it is common knowledge that breathing is more than a way for our body to get oxygen. The way we breathe can affect our heart rate and activate or deactivate parts of our nervous system. The truth is, there are still many things about breathing and our body that we do not know.

What is evident is that our body is interconnected in miraculous ways. Did you know that how you breathe impacts your ability to recognize fear and access your memory?

Inhalation activates amygdala and hippocampus

In 2016, scientists at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine stumbled upon a link between our rhythm of breathing, and our ability to process fear and memories. To research the brain activity of 7 epilepsy patients, the surgeon implanted an electrode to receive data. The recorded electrical activity showed fluctuations during inhalation and exhalation which prompted a new research.

The hypothesis for this new study is that the rhythm of breathing affects the amygdala – responsible for processing fear – and the hippocampus – responsible for processing memory.

To put this to the test, the scientists had 60 participants make fast decisions on determining the emotional expressions on faces while monitoring their breathing. The scientists observed that the participants were better able to recognize fearful faces during inhalation. However, there was no improved perception when breathing through the mouth or recognizing faces with other emotional expressions.

In a follow-up research, the same participants were shown images of objects on a screen and asked to remember them. When they were asked to recall the images, the scientists observed that the images that were shown during inhalation were easier to recall.

Fight or flight response explained

According to Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, these observations could explain why the body activates the Fight or Flight response when confronted with a fearful situation.

When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, your breathing rhythm becomes faster, increasing the amount of inhalations per minute and bringing your body and mind in a state of alertness.

The study was published Dec. 6 in the Journal of Neuroscience. You can read more about the research here.

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